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Uptown in the News  

March 15, 2006
REST gives the homeless hope
By Angela Caputo

Ezeakel Evans had a lot to be proud of. Fresh out of high school he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served in Vietnam. He earned his journeyman's license and when he was discharged got a good government job as a plumber for the U.S. Postal Service. He went on to become a husband, and eventually a father of three.

Then after years of hard work, all of Evan's accomplishments went up in smoke when he went from dabbling in drinking and drug use to drowning in it.

Like dominos, the pieces of his life began to tumble.

He left his family, quit his job and for more than a decade, lived on the verge of homelessness.

It wasn't until he wound up actually walking the trail in 2003 that the 55-year-old finally told himself "It's decision time."

Even though he'd given up on making a good life for himself long before, Evan's found the support at REST shelter, 941 W. Lawrence Ave., to help him turn it around. Admittedly he still has a way to go to get back to where he once was. But with a new-found pride and his dignity intact, anything is possible, he said.

"To take a homeless man on drugs and help him to get on his feet and make him feel good about himself--that's what REST is all aobut," Evans said.

It takes a strong will to cope with mental illness, overcome drug addiction and other common causes of homelessness. But without the aid of counselors, support groups and a place to rest one's head--which are always at arm's length at REST--for many it would be impossible, no matter how dedicated.

A new strategy for ending homelessness under a 10-year plan laid out by service providers and endorsed by city officials has changed the way REST and other agencies across the city are tackling homelessness.

Instead of just offering people a place to stay the night, REST has grown to become an around-the-clock operation giving people constant refuge from the streets, despite dwindling public resources.

Aside from keeping the three shelters open--two for men and another for women--a daytime drop-in center was opened, the counselilng staff recently bolstered and more than two-dozen additional apartments have been leased to get people into permanent housing.

Like the vast majority of people living in one of REST's 100 apartments scattered throughout Uptown, Edgewater and Rogers Park, Evans can say now that he's beat homelessness.

Helping people to become whole again is what REST is all about. "We're not just providing a place to be but we're moving (people) along to be participating citizens," REST's Executive Director Kathy Ahler said.

As one man or woman gets on their feet, though, there's always another that's just walking through the door.

And judging from the full house at REST's daytime center one recent morning, it appears that the city has a long way to go to actually achieving the Plan to End Homelessness by 2013.

In a dim basement of the People's Church, on Lawrence just east of Sheridan Road, a television set buzzes at the front of the room and dozens of people sit around in folding chairs biding time.

"It is basically a safe place for you to be out of the cold and out of trouble," social services Director Geraldo Pilarski explains.

Roll-away beds are stacked in a corner of the basement space rented from the progressive Uptown church. At night they're unfolded and the daytime support center becomes a men's shelter.

REST's two other shelters are also housed in nearby churches--Uptown Baptist Church and in Edgewater's Epworth Methodist.

More than 2,549 stayed in the shelters over the past year. But people were turned away 12,000 times last year from REST alone, illustrating a demand that far surpasses the earliest years when a handful of people would stay overnight in a volunteer-run shelter.

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